Rancho Valencia is a five-star Relais and Châteaux spa and tennis resort about half an hour north of San Diego in a town called Rancho Santa Fe. It’s just down the street from the famous Del Mar Racecourse, and the entire town of Rancho Santa Fe seems to live and breathe horses. (I do love me a horse town!) The equestrian element is prevalent all over Rancho Valencia, most notably at The Pony Room restaurant.
It’s on 45 acres and recently completed a $30 million renovation–and it shows. Rancho Valencia oozes luxury. In 2012, US News and World Report named it the #1 resort in California, it was named the #1 “US Tennis Resort” by Tennis magazine, and it made last year’s Conde Nast Traveler Hot List.
Each guest has their own hacienda, with 49 casitas featuring private patios, jacuzzis and outdoor fireplaces. There’s also a luxury Villa that’s sold as a timeshare, and a 5,000 square-foot guesthouse that has played home to the likes of Tom Cruise.
You feel like you’re in your own world at Rancho Valencia, thanks in no small part to the fact that guests are housed in their own casitas. Casitas come with a mini kitchenette, a large living room with fireplace, huge bathroom featuring massive tub and a Japan-style gadget toilet, bedroom with porch, and a large private outdoor area including your own jacuzzi and an outdoor fireplace.
The huge beds are incredibly comfortable. After an exhausting day of tennis, hiking, yoga and fitness center (seriously, I’ve never worked out so much in my life!), I came back to my room, put the fireplace on high, climbed in the giant tub, and then slept like the dead.
I was happy.
I mean, how gorgeous is this room?!
Tennis is king at Rancho Valencia, which features 18 championship tennis courts nestled in between bougainvillea and citrus trees. It’s home to some of the country’s top instructors, and even has a Stay and Play Tennis Package with a one-night stay plus a $175 tennis credit per person.
Here’s our press trip group, below, after an invigorating morning of tennis. I swear, there was no memo on wearing purple and blue, but great minds…
Everybody who stays at Rancho Valencia has the opportunity to rent a Porsche for several hours–for free! Naturally, I took advantage of this perk. (How could you not?) I spent my childhood in San Diego, not 15 minutes away from Rancho Santa Fe in a town called Rancho Bernardo. I hopped in the Porsche, sped on over to look at my old house, and also checked out my elementary school. Good times.
Other activities include croquet, a yoga studio, a fitness center, two pools, and an amazing spa. The spa features Amala products, which are among the few beauty products I’ve ever purchased. They’re expensive, but they’re that good. I’m addicted to the Amala Advanced Brightening Emulsion.
There are two restaurants on property: The Pony Room, which features upscale but casual indoor-and-outdoor dining and turns into a mega happy-hour hotspot, and Veladora, which is quite relaxed considering how fancy and delicious it is. There are little touches like a Damien Hirst print made entirely out of butterflies which stun just as much as the massive wine cave and mouthwatering desserts.
The restaurants subscribe to a farm-to-table philosophy, with olive oil, honey and herbs cultivated on property. Tequila takes center stage at The Pony Room, which looks like a hunting lodge, California-style, and features 100 different tequila options, as well as a selection of locally-brewed craft beer. And, of course, the wine flows plentifully.
We had dinner on our last night in the Wine Cave, a private dining room with more than 250 bottles and full-sized oak barrels filled with private blends. (One of the wines they served us was decanted straight from the barrel, which came direct from the winery!)
It was hard to choose a favorite dining experience at RV, but there was something particularly magical about the Wine Cave, which felt like the perfect place to hold a small wedding dinner. In fact, everything about Rancho Valencia is wedding-worthy…should you be in the market for a venue!
Here’s the thing: I’ve stayed at plenty of fancy hotels around the world, but they felt fancy. There’s something remarkably, refreshingly laid-back about Rancho Valencia. It’s truly one of the best resorts I’ve ever stayed at–and maaaybe the nicest I’ve been to in California–which isn’t surprising seeing as it’s a Relais and Châteaux property and their hotels and gourmet restaurants are the best. (Exhibit A: this French Château E. and I stayed at in Champagne just after he asked me to marry him, where I kept expecting to encounter the ghost of Marie Antoinette around every immaculate corner.) What distinguishes Rancho Valencia from every other five-star hotel on the block: there’s not a whiff of pretension. You’re as likely to see a local hanging around The Pony Room for a delicious artisanal cocktail as you are to see vacationers from far-and-wide decked out head-to-toe in tennis gear. This is a healthy, friendly, beautiful resort: Southern California at its finest.
It’s hardly bargain-basement, with casitas going for about $700 a night, but you’re definitely getting what you pay for. It’s on my short-list of “must-return” resorts, and I’m really excited to go back again soon with E. and force him into days and days of tennis.
Until next time, Rancho Valencia!
Disclosure: While I was a guest of Rancho Valencia, as always, all opinions remain my own.